Ronald Kessler reporting from Washington, D.C. —
Unnoticed by the press, a notorious FBI legend died last March. He was H. Edward Tickel Jr., the FBI’s top break-in artist.
At 5:30 p.m. on April 16, 1980, janitor Earl Thornton opened the door to the Federal Credit Union on the eighth floor of FBI headquarters. He turned on the lights. Thornton was about to start vacuuming when he saw crouching behind a counter a stocky man with brown hair in front of an open safe. After a pause, the man behind the counter jumped up.
“FBI! Freeze!” the man said.
The janitor quickly recognized the intruder as FBI agent Tickel. Tickel could pick almost any lock, crack any safe, and enter any home or embassy without creating suspicion. Because of his specialty, the bureau entrusted some of its most precious secrets to him, including the fact that the FBI had bugged certain Soviet bloc embassies as well as the homes of leading Mafia figures.
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The son of a former FBI agent, Tickel was widely admired within the bureau and had many bureau friends, including James Greenleaf, who was then assistant director over the laboratory and later became associate deputy director of the FBI. Tickel gave lavish parties and had a collection of Porsches and horses at his house on a five-acre lot in Virginia.
“He was so highly regarded and so highly respected,” Greenleaf tells me. “He was living a little above his means, but we thought it was from royalties from inventing a lock.”
Tickel told janitor Thornton he had been called to the credit union, which had $260,000 in cash in the safe, because of a report the door was unlocked. He placed the janitor under arrest. But Tickel’s story unraveled when he could not identify to FBI agents who had called him to the credit union, and Thornton said he found the door of the credit union locked.
“I polygraphed him [Tickel], and he failed,” Paul Minor, the agent who conducted the test, says. “There were no admissions. Except when he left [the polygraph room], he said, ‘From the beginning, I knew this might come down to a contest between experts. I respect you very much.’”
An investigation determined that, aside from his activities in the credit union, Tickel had been selling stolen rings and loose diamonds. He also was involved in selling stolen cars and stealing two-way FBI radios for friends.
Tickel was acquitted in federal court in Washington of burglarizing the FBI credit union. However, he pleaded guilty to having taken the radios. After a nine-day trial, Tickel also was convicted in Alexandria, Va., of charges connected with jewelry theft — interstate transportation of stolen goods, making false statements, obstruction of justice, and tax evasion. For these charges, he received a prison term of eight years.
In addition, in Loudoun County in Virginia, he was convicted of receiving $120,000 in stolen cars and other items.
At the end of the proceedings, Tickel was charged in Prince George’s County outside of Washington with second degree rape for having sex with a daughter of one of his many lawyers. The daughter, who was 20 at the time, had a learning disability and epilepsy. Tickel pleaded guilty to a second-degree sex offense — having sex with force or the threat of force. His 20-year sentence for that crime ran concurrently with federal sentences he was already serving.
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As revealed in my book “The Secrets of the FBI,” breaking into homes and offices to plant bugging devices is now carried out by Tactical Operations, a super-secret unit of FBI break-in artists who conduct court-authorized burglaries in homes, offices, and embassies to plant hidden microphones and video cameras and snoop into computers. Besides terrorists, the targets may be Mafia figures, corrupt members of Congress, spies, or Russian or Chinese intelligence officers.
The only official notice of Tickel’s death in Colorado Springs, Colo., was posted on the website of the funeral home that handled his funeral arrangements. It said he died on March 3, 2012, at the age of 71. The notice said he had been an FBI supervisor and gave no further details about his bureau career. But to FBI agents, the case of Ed Tickel is remembered as one of the most bizarre and disturbing in the history of the bureau.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. He is the New York Times bestselling author of books on the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. Read more reports from Ronald Kessler — Click Here Now.
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